Honey's First Year at the Bear Center
Honey is a female, brown phase black bear. She arrived at the North American Bear Center on May 1st, 2007, along with Ted, a big male black bear she had grown up with. At that time Honey weighed about 550 pounds, which is approximately the record for a female black bear. Both Ted and Honey had lived with a family in Wisconsin for many years. Honey is a year older than Ted, and their owner said the only reason they got Ted was because Honey was such a sweet and special bear.
Honey was unhappy during her first few weeks at the Bear Center, and we didn't see much of that ‘sweet special bear' her owner told us about. Ted loves people and adjusted easily to his new home, but Honey missed her owner and it took her much longer to feel comfortable with us. She was blustery and would occasionally bluff charge, apparently to give herself the "safe" area she needed.
Honey was cautious and uncomfortable in her new surroundings. While Ted was in the Bear Center pond within days of their arrival, it was two weeks before Honey decided to go for a swim. However, once she ‘took the plunge' she obviously enjoyed it. We enjoyed seeing her in the pond looking like a giant bobber.
Once we learned to read Honey's many moods in her eyes, we began to understand and appreciate her very special personality. By learning to read her eyes we understood her limits and worked within them. She responded to soft voices and eventually to gentle touches. Although she started out not wanting any of us near her, by fall she was gently taking food out of our hands. She is a very special bear who has provided us a wonderful opportunity to better understand bear behavior.
During the summer Honey enjoyed playing a racing game. When we wanted Honey to come down into the viewing area, one of the keepers would go back to entice her down. Many times she would not come, but when the keeper coaxed her into a race-Honey on the inside of the fence and the keeper on the outside-Honey seemed to enjoy the race. Her prize for winning was a treat, but the real winners were our Bear Center visitors who got to see our beautiful Honey bear.
Honey particularly learned to trust one of the bear keepers. This keeper, who had been gone for a while, returned and offered her a treat. Honey took the treat from the keepers hand and dropped it on the ground. Then she turned and gently sucked the keepers finger.
As Honey shed her winter coat over the summer she had many "Bad Hair Days" when her old lighter sun-bleached hair hung in dreadlocks and was not very attractive. However, once she finished shedding she had a beautiful coat of shiny dark brown fur. Honey spent the cooler days and shorter daylight hours of fall in a sunny spot in the open instead of in the woods.
Her previous owner told us that Honey fights going into hibernation, and we certainly found that to be true. She paced in her corner of the enclosure, but did not want to go into her den. Although Ted went into his den earlier, Honey did not go in until after Thanksgiving.
We saw many of the same behaviors in Honey and Ted during the mating season that we see among the wild study bears. She spent time marking trees and seeming flirtatious. Ted was obviously interested in her but she often ran from him. We do not believe they mated and do not expect that Honey has cubs.
It has been a joy to watch Honey adjust to her new home and build trust in those caring for her. We are anxious to see if the bonds established last summer will be present when she emerges from her den in the spring.